Football chaos brings curtain down on drama-filled SEA Games
Nearly two weeks of triumphs, tears and the occasional tantrum will come to an end Wednesday when the Southeast Asian Games close in Cambodia, with Vietnam topping the final medals table.
Women’s football gold capped a glittering Games for Vietnam, who reigned over the medals table to claim regional supremacy ahead of Thailand and Indonesia.
Cambodia were fourth — the first time in four editions of the biennial Games that the hosts did not come top of the pile, but their 81 golds were a huge improvement for them on recent years.
The sporting action in Phnom Penh came to a chaotic end late Tuesday when Indonesia beat Thailand in a men’s football final featuring seven goals, four red cards and two mass brawls.
The Thai football association apologised and said it would investigate the skirmishes between the two sides which marred the gold-medal match.
The Games officially close later Wednesday.
After they opened on May 5, Cambodia claimed their first ever athletics gold, Chhun Bunthorn winning the men’s 800m and sparking moving scenes at the finish line as he toasted his late parents.
“I am very emotional,” he told reporters.
“My parents passed away and I miss them greatly. If they were still here, they would have been very happy with my victory.”
There was more emotion on the track when Bou Samnang broke down in tears after crossing the finish line in the women’s 5,000m — all alone and nearly six minutes after the race winner.
Videos of her crying and soaked by rain went viral and were the defining image of the Games.
“I can say now I’m famous,” the 20-year-old told AFP at the Morodok Techo Stadium, the scene of her unlikely rise to prominence, where passers-by were lining up for photos with her.
“Although I lost, they support me from the bottom of their hearts.”
With the Asian Games in China later this year and the Paris Olympics in 2024, Southeast Asia’s world-class athletes got in some crucial competitive action.
Philippine gymnast Carlos Yulo took two golds and two silvers and compatriot Ernest John Obiena won the pole vault for the third Games running.
Controversial rules imposed by the hosts, however, limited the number of events contested by prolific gymnasts such as Yulo, who won five golds and two silvers at the last Games.
– Sprint royalty reign –
Four of Vietnam’s 136 golds were won by the star of the athletics track Thi Oanh Nguyen, who dominated the women’s 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m and 3,000m steeplechase.
They also won the women’s football with a 2-0 victory in the final over Myanmar, and topped the gymnastics with nine golds.
Vietnam did well too in combat sports, including in the hosts’ traditional martial art of kun bokator.
Thailand were best overall in the athletics, notably sprint king Soraoat Dapbang, who won the men’s 100m and 200m.
While the kingdom’s medal hopes were hobbled by its boycott of kun Khmer -– objecting to the use of that name for a sport more widely known as Muay Thai — it did win nine golds in boxing.
The controversial use of the Cambodian name for the “art of the eight limbs” is a testament to how SEA Games rules tend to be kind to the home country.
The Philippines were fifth in the medals table but reclaimed gold in men’s basketball — the sport enjoys huge popularity in the country and is one of the most coveted titles at the Games.
Singapore came sixth, led by their all-conquering swimmers and sprinter Shanti Pereira, who clinched women’s 100m and 200m gold.
The next SEA Games will be in Thailand in 2025.
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